In a Hole
Also Known As: What You Will
Historian: Jeremy D. Goodwin
Last Update: 2014-09-04
Page sings this sprightly little ditty, which was played eight times in fall 1989, only to subsequently disappear from the Phish universe. It reflects the band’s jazzier leanings back in the Burlington days. The lyrics tell a story which, if not a straight transcription of a dream, is in any case dreamlike. The first-person narrator recounts his experiences running though a field, falling into a hole, and experiencing a harrowing plunge into the depths of the crevice. He somehow escapes, though it is only a momentary reprieve before he repeats his mistake, perhaps in the midst of an impenetrable cycle. The song’s name was apparently undetermined as late as 10/26/89, when Trey told the audience to “call it what you will,” followed by the joke that it was indeed called “What You Will.”
“In a Hole” debuted on 10/20/89, the first of three celebrated nights at The Front. This original incarnation (a hot jazz number) featured Dave Grippo and Russ Remington on alto and tenor saxes, respectively. It swings unrelentingly. This tune was played four times in the brief span between its debut and 10/26/89, and then popped up four more times between 11/30/89 and 12/16/89. Sadly it has yet to appear again.
“In a Hole” die-hards took some solace when it was sound-checked as recently as 7/4/99. But a generation passed before “In A Hole” surfaced again from the murky depths of early Phish history. During the encore on the second night of the Phish’s Labor Day weekend run at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in 2014— in reference to a bit of business in which the band had just acted as if the show was over after “The Horse” (before indeed playing “Silent In The Morning” as expected)—Trey brought up the song (calling it “I’m In A Hole”) as an example of other “stupid stuff” the band used to do in its early days. (Page was off a couple years in his reckoning of when it happened, suggesting 1985 or 1986.) “We wrote three verses and we practiced it for weeks and weeks and we finally played it live,” Trey said, “and the entire gag as, as it were…” before Fishman interrupted by suggesting they “just play it.”
Trey indicated he did not want to play it, thus robbing the fans present of what would have been one of the most statistically significant break-outs ever, a revival of the song after a gap of 1,346 shows. But he sang the song’s final lines, explaining that the whole point of it was the joke of shifting from singing “I’m in a hole” repeatedly to “I’m an A-hole.” (This can be heard clearly on the aforementioned 10/26/89 version.)
Though the more liberal setlist conventions employed at LivePhish.com resulted in the song being credited—and available, including the story and its accompanying 13 seconds worth of musical performance, for purchase for $1.29 —the on-call setlist nerds at Phish.net determined, after a lively internal debate, to categorize it as a mere tease.